The Trump administration announced Tuesday it will waive environmental and other laws and regulations that would impede the first phase of construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security decision clears an important hurdle to construction of the wall, and signals an approach the administration could take in the future when it seeks to build additional sections of wall or fence.
The waiver announced Tuesday applies to "a variety of environmental, natural resource, and land management laws" in the San Diego sector, one of the most-crossed regions of the border and the site where border wall prototypes are scheduled to be constructed later this year.
The 15-mile stretch identified in the waiver also includes 14 miles of replacement secondary fencing, for which Customs and Border Protection has requested funding from Congress.
Despite the waiver, construction will not begin for at least several more months because federal officials are currently reviewing a protest by a company that competed for, but was not awarded, a building contract. That process delays any construction on the prototypes, which have been authorized by congressional appropriators, until November at the earliest.
The waiver applies to 37 laws and regulations, most of them environmental in nature, a Homeland Security official told CNN. The department said it would publish the full waiver "in the coming days."
DHS said in a statement it "remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects."
The announcement follows concerns raised by conservation groups and Democrats that border barriers would hurt the environment. Most recently, environmental groups were alarmed with soil sampling conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in a Rio Grande Valley wildlife sanctuary. Homeland Security officials said the refuge testing was part of broader work by the Army Corps to prepare for fencing the department wants to build.
DHS has used the waiver multiple times in the past, including to build border fence from 2005 to 2008. The waivers were challenged in the courts, but each time federal judges granted DHS the authority to move forward, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The Supreme Court declined two requests to review the issue.
Construction of a Mexican-funded border wall was a key campaign promise of President Donald Trump. During the transition period before he took office, Trump's incoming administration began reviewing environmental laws and other potential obstacles to construction.